Haiti: court rules Duvalier case can proceed

After a nine-month delay, a three-member Port-au-Prince appeals court panel held a new hearing on Feb. 20 to consider human rights complaints filed against former "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986). To the surprise of many observers, the judges ruled that the case could go forward, overturning a January 2012 decision by investigative judge Carvès Jean that the statute of limitations had run out on rights violations that occurred under Duvalier's dictatorship. "Serious indications relative to indirect participation and criminal responsibility of the accused, Jean-Claude Duvalier, are obvious," Judge Jean Joseph Lubrun said, citing Duvalier's apparent failure "to take the necessary and reasonable measures in order to prevent the commission of the crimes and to take the reasonable measures to punish the authors."

The panel appointed appeals court judge Durin Duret Junior as the new investigative judge in the case. He is to take testimony from additional witnesses and to determine the standing of people who filed complaints based on alleged crimes against their deceased spouses. This process is expected to take months, with no guarantee that Duvalier will actually go on trial. But complainants and human rights advocates were happy with the court's decision. "This ruling today is a total victory not only for the victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier but also the Haitian legal system," said Nicole Phillips, a human rights lawyer with the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). "This is a very, very important ruling." Robert Duval, one of the complainants, called it "a great step forward, since they're going to call all of Jean-Claude Duvalier's associates, who can be brought before the justice system." (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 20; Miami Herald, Feb. 20, from correspondent)

Despite the ruling in the Duvalier case, the human rights situation remains problematic in Haiti, according to rights advocates, who are still shocked by the Feb. 8 murder of Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) coordinator Daniel Dorsinvil and his wife, pediatric nurse Girdly Larêche. The police arrested a suspect on Feb. 16 but failed to identify him, leading the couple's friends and colleagues to question the arrest. "We don't want the police to go ahead with arrests of innocent individuals, but [with arrests] of real suspects," said POHDH executive secretary Antonal Mortimé. (AlterPresse, Feb. 19)

In another prominent case, human rights attorney Patrice Florvilus has now fled to Canada with his family. Flovilus represented homeless people living in the Acra displaced persons camp in the Delmas section of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. He and his organization, the Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), reported receiving death threats, and on Nov. 27 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), ordered the Haitian government to take measures to ensure the lawyer's physical well-being. However, Lawyers Without Borders Canada (ASFC) reported that concerns for safety led him and his family to move to Montreal on Dec. 3. (ASFC, Dec. 12; NACLA "The Other Side of Paradise" blog, Feb. 21)

Meanwhile, efforts to win the rehiring of six unionists fired from the One World Apparel S.A. garment assembly plant on Jan. 8 continued to be stalled. A Feb. 17 meeting at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) was cancelled, supposedly because no MAST inspectors were available. The workers contend that they were fired as a reprisal for their role in organizing walkouts in December for a higher minimum wage. They are represented by attorney Kevenot Dorvil of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), an IJDH affiliate; he warned that this could be a long struggle. (AlterPresse, Feb. 17)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 23.